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Cox v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 25, 2017

WILLIAM COX, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Barbara A. McAuliffe UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff William Cox (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act.[1] The matter is before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe. Having carefully considered the parties' briefs as well as the entire record in this case, the Court finds the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to be supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and based upon proper legal standards. Accordingly, this Court affirms the agency's determination to deny benefits.


         On January 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed his current application for DIB, alleging disability beginning February 1, 2009. AR 9.[2] Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 90-97, 102-114. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. ALJ Daniel G. Heely held a hearing on February 9, 2015, and issued an order denying benefits on August 19, 2015. AR 10-20. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-3. This appeal followed.

         Plaintiff's Testimony

         At the administrative hearing held in Stockton, California, Plaintiff appeared and testified with the help of an attorney, and the ALJ sought testimony from vocational expert (“VE”) Valerie Williams. AR 21.

         The ALJ first questioned Plaintiff about his previous employment. Based on Plaintiff's earning records, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff last worked in 2009. AR 24. When asked whether Plaintiff could resume working, Plaintiff testified that he was not sure whether he could perform full-time work. AR 24.

         With respect to his impairments, Plaintiff primarily complains of numbness on the bottom of his right foot for which Plaintiff wears a walking cast. AR 25-27. Plaintiff had surgery on his ankle in 1993. AR 25. Due to nerve damage, Plaintiff experiences constant pain in his foot and takes medication for the related neuropathy. AR 26, 32. Plaintiff also uses a cane to ambulate due to problems in his knees and his foot. AR 26, 30. Plaintiff wears a brace on his right knee and testified that he should also wear a brace on his left knee but that he does not have an extra one. AR 30. Plaintiff's knees are generally fine when the weather is warm but they bother him when the weather is cold or he moves in “the wrong direction.” AR 32. Plaintiff also experiences pain between his wrist and left elbow and hearing loss. AR 26-27. In terms of mental functioning, Plaintiff testified that he has never received any type of mental health treatment. AR 28.

         When asked about his daily activities, Plaintiff testified that he lives with his wife and his cousins. AR 28. He does not need help getting dressed or taking care of personal hygiene, but testified that he sometimes gets dizzy if he gets up too fast. AR 33. Plaintiff can squat and bend over provided he does so slowly. AR 33-34. In addition to mostly watching television all day, he attends church weekly and bible study occasionally. AR 29. He does not drive because his driver's license is expired and generally walks or takes public transportation to get around. AR 29.

         Thereafter, the ALJ asked VE Williams hypothetical questions based upon the medical record and the ALJ's subsequent RFC finding. AR 34. After asking the VE to contemplate an individual of the same age, education, and work background as Plaintiff, the VE determined that Plaintiff could perform work as it exists in the national economy. AR 35-37.[3]

         Medical Record

         The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. AR 286-537. The medical evidence will be referenced below as necessary to this Court's decision.

         The ALJ's Decision

         Using the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not meet the disability standard. AR 9-15. More particularly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2009. AR 11. The ALJ identified Plaintiff's degenerative joint disease as a severe impairment. AR 11. Nonetheless, the ALJ determined that the severity of Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or exceed any of the listed impairments. AR 11-12.

         Based on his review of the entire record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of medium work. Although Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work, the ALJ determined he remained able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the economy. AR 14-15. The ALJ therefore found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. AR 15.

         SCOPE ...

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